civet (sĭvˈət) [key] or civet cat, any of a large group of mostly nocturnal mammals of the Old World family Viverridae (civet family), which also includes the mongoose. Civets are not true cats, but the civet family is related to the cat family (Felidae). Most civets have catlike bodies, long tails, and weasellike faces. Their fur may be gray or brown, and may be marked in various patterns. All civets have scent-producing glands, located in a double pouch near the genitals. The fatty yellow secretion of these glands has a distinctive musky odor used for territorial marking. Commercially, this substance is known as civet and is used as a perfume fixative. Civet can be removed from captive animals every 14 to 20 days. Some civet species are hunted for their fur. The ground-living, or true, civets form a distinctive group within the family; these animals have a highly carnivorous diet. Most have dark spots and ringed tails. They include several Asian species (genus Viverra ) and one African species ( Civettictis civetta ). Best known is the Indian civet, V. zibetha, of S Asia, from which most of the civet for perfume is derived. It has tawny fur with black spots and black bands on the tail. It is about 30 in. (76 cm) long, excluding the 20-in. (42-cm) tail, and about 15 in. (38 cm) high at the shoulder; it weighs up to 25 lb (11 kg). Its musk glands are greatly enlarged. Some of the ground-living civets are called linsangs and genets. The palm civets form another distinct group within the civet family. These are arboreal, largely fruit-eating animals of Africa and Asia; they are classified in several genera. The North American spotted skunk is sometimes popularly called civet but is not closely related to civets. Civets are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Carnivora, family Viverridae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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